In an annual event, thousands of bare-breasted young Swazi women paraded in front of their king to celebrate chastity and unity.
The traditional Umhlanga Reed Dance is meant to celebrate womanhood and virginity.
Clad only in beaded mini-skirts and clutching machetes and mobile phones, women and girls as young as five danced and sang tributes on Sunday and Monday to the king and queen mother, also known as the Great She-Elephant.
“I’m proud to be Swazi and to be a virgin. We are here to show unity with the king and with each other,” said 18-year-old Gcebine Dlamini.
In the past, King Mswati III, who has at least a dozen wives, has used the ceremony to choose a new wife, and some girls still hoped to catch the king’s eye.
“If chosen, I would be able to live a better life than what I have, have a lot of money, live a queen’s life and travel overseas,” said Fakazile Dlamini, 14, who arrived on a truck from her village 60 km away to attend the ceremony.
New royal wives have often received a BMW and their own palace, fuelling criticism in a country where more than two-thirds of its 1.4 million people live in abject poverty.
Women’s groups and political opponents also say Mswati’s penchant for multiple young brides ill befits a country with the world’s highest rate of HIV/AIDS, but the monarch says polygamy is part of Swazi tradition and helps cement national unity.
Maidens flocked in from across the country – some attend the ceremony every year until they marry – cut reeds from river beds, which they then presented to the queen mother in a mile-long singing and foot-stamping procession.
In the past, they would have been accommodated by families living close to the royal household but are now put up in camps and protected by police from other men.
Even though the girls refuse to criticise UK-educated Mswati who arrived at the event dressed in beads and lion cloth, not everyone supported his polygamous lifestyle.
“I don’t want to be a queen, I don’t want to share my man. Polygamy is not okay,” Siphesihle Mdluli, 20, who hopes to go on to study medicine said while waving her bundle of reeds.